Constance Rosenfelt. Tall, thin, Jewish. In spite of her full head of shoulder-length silver hair, it was difficult to guess her age. Her complexion was olive without the need for much make-up except for a dab of subtle lipstick and blusher. Her wide, dark-brown eyes sparkled when she smiled, a nice thing she did often, no holding back. She offered clarity, a ticket to a world of sanity that I almost resisted at first. She had admirable posture, something I tried to emulate in my sessions with her. It was rare to see her wearing pants, but they did something for her.Chapter 7, How We Remember
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We all have meaningful stories to tell, whether they are narratives about our own lived experiences or those we observe in others and the world around us. This doesn’t always mean that everyone will or should be expected to write those stories. We share them orally in simple or more complex ways in our everyday conversations – such is the nature of socialising, getting to know each other, complete with those moments of honest revealing and/or strategic editing! But there are some of us who feel compelled to write stories, fictionalise and dramatise them, expand them, create new imagined worlds and share them with interested readers.
Over the years I’ve found myself returning to this need to record experience through words on paper and to play with the tools of storytelling. This was first encouraged by a very special city youth worker called Eileen, who looked after me and a small group of other girls when I was around age twelve or thirteen. When our time came to an end she presented me with the gift of a nicely wrapped, black, hard-back, blank notebook. In confusion, I smiled and said something like, ‘Oh, a book. There’s nothing in it,’ and thought, What the hell do I do with this? She said, ‘It’s a journal. It’s for you to fill up. Something for you to write all your thoughts in, all your feelings. Anything you want to write. And you don’t have to show anyone, or you can if you want.’ Well, I had known what a diary was, had seen the ones sold for children, often girls, marketed with pink covers and locks on the side, but I had never seen anything as respectable looking as this black book with blank, lined pages, ready for the taking. She even gave me a pen, in the hope that I’d use it. And I did. And that was the start of it all. Eileen, on the off chance you might ever read this, I want to say thank you for playing such a big part in initiating my creative writing life!
Fast forward to many years of journal writing, a hard-earned, much sweated English degree with a huge amount of privileged time spent on reading and analysing literature, writing short story-fiction, followed by post grad academic research and writing, not to mention a fair amount of work-related report writing, and here I am. My debut novel How We Remember, a family drama, part coming-of-age, part retrospective narrative, was published September 13th, 2018 with UK publisher, RedDoor Publishing. Here is a little summary from the back cover blurb:
The blood ties that have kept Jo and her brother Dave together are challenged when an unexpected inheritance fans the flames of underlying tensions. Upon discovering her mother’s diary, the details of their family’s troubled past are brought into sharp relief and painful memories are reawakened.
Narrated with moments of light and dark, J.M. Monaco weaves together past and present, creating a complex family portrait of pain and denial in this remarkable debut novel.
Perfect for fans of Anne Tyler and Sylvia Brownrigg, this book will stay with you long after you stop turning the pages.
‘Monaco evokes time and place in a manner that is wholly engaging; she tells an engrossing story of the truth about coming to terms with the past, and the feel of this stays after the final page.’ Ruth Figgest
Novelist Emma Jane Unsworth described How We Remember as ‘A deeply assured, soulful and savage portrayal of family life and secrets. This book gets under your skin and stays there.’
Author Joanne Burn described the novel as ‘Unsettling, honest and thought-provoking.’
How We Remember is available to buy through RedDoor Publishing, Foyles, Waterstones, WH Smith, Amazon, and other international distributors.
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For now I’ll leave you with a little reference to a Guardian interview by Hermione Hobey with one of my favourite US authors, Elizabeth Strout (Abide with Me, Amy and Isabelle, The Burgess Boys, Olive Kitteridge, My Name is Lucy Barton, Anything is Possible) who discusses the importance of writing with a sense of honesty and a great deal of risk-taking. For me, this is what powerful, meaningful writing is all about, writing that reveals emotional truths, not just fact-based ones. This is what I hope to achieve.
She goes on to explain: “You can’t write fiction and be careful. You just can’t. I’ve seen it with my students over the years, and I think actually the biggest challenge a writer has is to not be careful. So many times students would say, ‘Well, I can’t write that, my boyfriend would break up with me.’ And I’d think …” she sucks her teeth, “‘Well, OK, I’m sorry, I don’t really have much more to tell you.’ You have to do something that’s going to say something, and if you’re careful it’s just not going to work.” Or, as Sarah Payne tells Lucy, “We all love imperfectly. But if you find yourself protecting anyone as you write this piece, remember this: You’re not doing it right.”